Scott Hollifield: Just your normal everyday invisible pet squirrel

When I was a young fellow, right there in the short window between post-toddler and preschooler, I had an invisible pet squirrel I kept in my pocket.

You might think that’s nuts and I could say you’re close, but in my post-toddler/ preschooler imagination, that invisible squirrel in my pocket was just as real as Bugs Bunny and Captain Kangaroo.

I was a bit of precocious child, some might say deeply troubled and in desperate need of help, but I prefer precocious. I spent a good deal of time hanging out at a Shell service station on the hill above the oil company where my dad worked, breathing in the 1970s leaded gasoline fumes, scooting around on a mechanics creeper and standing on the counter near the cash register reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for anyone who would listen.

And, of course, I showed off the invisible squirrel I kept in my pocket, pulling him out and opening my hand with an upturned palm for everyone to see.

“ This is my pet squirrel,” I would announce.

The reply was usually, “That’s nice, son. Is my car ready yet?” or “That boy up on the counter ain’t right.”

What I did not know at the time is I should have said, “This is my support squirrel” because that would have made it fine and proved that I was a visionary far ahead of my time.

Today, it seems nearly any animal – cuddly, slimy, dangerous or invisible — can be a therapy/support animal, providing comfort in a world that is sometimes uncomfortable.

Take, for instance, a Pennsylvania man who says his support alligator helps him deal with depression.

According to a story from The Associated Press, the source I turn to for news about potentially deadly reptiles residing in suburban neighborhoods in the Keystone State, a 65-year-old man said “his registered emotional support animal named Wally likes to snuggle and give hugs, despite being a 5-foot-long alligator. The York Haven man said he received approval from his doctor to use Wally as his emotional support animal after not wanting to go on medication for depression.”

Those familiar with Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the 1960s may remember Wally Gator as a “swingin’ alligator in the swamp.” It’s good to see that later in life he settled down and became a loving caregiver in Pennsylvania.

Intrigued by what I had discovered, I enlisted by crack research staff (Google) to come up with a list of animals – invisible or otherwise – that made news as therapy and/or support critters. Those include:

A live turkey on a Delta Airlines flight.

“ He would like a window seat since he’s never been able to reach this altitude before.”

- A therapy snake dining in a Mexican restaurant in Missouri.

“ No mas Dos Equis, por favor. I’m either hallucinating or that’s a python eating guacamole.”

A service kangaroo in a fast food restaurant in Wisconsin.

“ Can you put some extra honey mustard in her pouch, please?”

As with most anything, there has arisen a backlash against unusual therapy/support creatures, especially within the airline industry. A May 2018 story in the Chicago Tribune noted that United Airlines prevented an emotional support peacock from flying the friendly skies and American Airlines followed up, disallowing a variety of animals — including goats, hedgehogs and tusked creatures – from boarding with their owners.

After researching the wide variety of therapy and/or support animals, I no longer believe the invisible pet squirrel in my pocket was out of the ordinary or anything to be ashamed about. And if Mr. McNutsy ever wants to come back, well, he will always have a place my trousers.

But we may not be able to fly together.

Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at rhollifield@mcdowellnews.com.

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